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Der Blaue Reiter
There is an old riddle along the lines of the light bulb changing jokes. It asks, "How many people does it take to paint a portrait?" The answer is three, one to pose, one to do the painting, and one to hit the artist over the head when he's finished. And, like many jokes, there's a grain of truth involved in that an artist will often see endless deficiencies in his work and given half a chance, will sometimes "work it to death" in search of perfection. After reading about the three artists involved in Die Brücke one might similarly ask, "How many artists does it take to make a movement?" And if some of the art movements of this century are any indication, the number might again be three. The German Expressionist movement known as Der Blaue Reiter is an interesting case in point.

Der Blaue Reiter (translated: The Blue Rider) was the brainchild of Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and Paul Klee though there were actually something on the order of nine artists involved at one time or another. Kandinsky was Russian, Marc was German, and Klee was Swiss. The name had a complex origin involving the millennium, Saint George, the Second Coming, and something about the colour blue being that of male principle spirituality. There's more to it than that but it isn't important. Like Die Brücke, Der Blaue Reiter was about Fauve, non-representational colour. But unlike the Fauves and Die Brücke, Der Blaue Reiter was a much more diverse group linked more by Kandinsky's charismatic influence than by much similarity in style (other than Fauve colour).

Kandinsky was a powerful expressionist whose work was a seminal influence for Abstract Expressionism, which he helped found in New York near the end of his life. His painting, Improvisation No. 30, done in 1913, is typical of the type of work influencing Abstractionists such as Gorky and de Kooning. Franz Marc's work in oils is characterised by heavily saturated colour and simple, graceful, swirling curves as in his 1911 painting The Large Blue Horses, which is often seen as a sort of logo for the entire group. Klee, on the other hand, was a watercolourist during much of his lifetime, painting careful geometric, abstracted landscapes, often of scenes out of North Africa such as his Hammamet with Its Mosque, painted in 1914. These three, and their followers were the high-water mark of German Expression before the war after which the capital of Avant-garde art moved from Munich back to Paris, Picasso, Braque, and Cubism.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
16 August 1998

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